Leveraging the Sidetrack

Posted by on Jan 12, 2017 in Uncategorized | No Comments

One of the activities most frequently included in those lists of traits and practices “successful people” apply in their daily business is the rule of moving a document just once. Read it once, act on it, then move it to wherever it needs to go next in the business process (e.g. outbox, save to your hard drive or corporate intranet, discuss and share with an associate, or trash it). Me? Well, I have to admit after reading them I sometimes squirrel things away for a cold winter day. This past week Denver had its first big snow of the season and INGATHER officially closed for a Snow Day. I found myself bundled up at home hunkered down going through some “acorns” I’ve collected for wintertime. One unearthed nugget was Quirk’s 2016 corporate researcher report that I read several months ago. I went through it again looking for insights I might have missed on the first pass. One data point I had noted on my first reading grabbed my attention again. Fifty percent of respondents in the survey say they have too many projects for their budgets. That number, unto itself is not at all surprising. Management in almost every company is always asking for more. That’s their job. And in the marketing research world we are always trying to meet management’s requests while delivering solid, actionable data within or under budget. Looking at the number “50”, half of all respondents, jostled my memory. I recalled a technique I’d used years ago that helped my research clients get more bang for their buck by not just meeting their research goals within their budgets, but actually exceeding management’s expectations.

In the late 1990s my marketing company was working with some of the largest global telecom enterprises. One of our services was providing our clients with quantitative research and metrics at large trade shows. Our clients’ booths often spread across 5,000 sq. ft. of exhibit hall floor space and were commonly two stories. Our methodology was the first to collect real-time data on a handheld device (initially first generation Palm Pilots) by performing a series of exit surveys. Using kluged software we were able to provide reports at the end of each day. On the first day for our first client we pulled a couple of simple reports halfway through the day. We were able to demonstrate that 25 percent of the visitors to their booth that morning were their competitors. They had treated the competition to coffee, pastries and a detailed description of their newest products and technology roadmaps. Three weeks later at the next large telecom show the client had implemented new procedures to mitigate repeating that slip-up. Over time, our data informed them on who was visiting their booths, what products visitors were most interested in, how well the booth staff performed and whether or not the visitors understood the key messaging.  The timeliness of the data was mission critical and not cheap. Bleeding edge technology never is. In time our clients reliance on the valuable data provided was so useful and actionable they asked for more, deeper and complicated research projects. Great for us, but their budgets were always limited. Keep in mind these companies were usually very large with many product categories and lots of related and unrelated divisions.  As are so many companies today, our clients were broken up into silos where people in similar capacities did not even know each other.

When market researchers are fighting the good fight, it’s sometimes difficult to visualize a new and different approach. As an outsider I was able to see a possible solution to their budgetary boundaries. I suggested to my clients’ point people, usually the event managers, marketing execs or product directors to look around and reach across their company. A asked them to delve into other silos, departments, divisions and in a few instances global regions. The exercise: extend invitations to participate in research projects already in the works and fundamentally paid for. As telecom companies they were focused on the early stages and second generations of cellular phone technology, but other divisions were looking forward to broadband technologies and delivery of wireless via alternative terrestrial and satellite technology. In a number of cases the end customers – network operators – goals and technologies crossed over from silo to silo, division to division. The partnering business units could and did pony up bucks to join in and made the overall project more robust with deliverables benefiting all.

The host group came out looking like winners to management and went on to develop more open relationships with other company divisions. It worked several times and resulted in stronger studies for my clients and higher revenues for my company.

As mentioned at the head of this article, it’s not unusual to be running so fast you are not able to see the possibilities and options that may be standing by the side of the track. So while this partnering idea seemed at the time to be a no-brainer to me, it wasn’t something my clients had seen. Why? Because they were running within the corporate formula of silos and couldn’t see it.

Take a look around your company or your client’s business. Think about how you might be able to build a research partnership with another division/company that has similar attributes in the product or end-user you are working on. Reach out. You may be surprised how well received your invitation is. And there is the possibility you will be opening up an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship for the future.

By Bob Chapin, CEO

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